The Canals of Providence City: Irrigation Districts
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As the town grew from the original 20 dwellings to approximately 97 dwellings by 1870, it became clear that organization and leadership would be required in Providence to keep the peace and oversee the upkeep of the canals. The earliest attempt at such leadership came in 1862, when the Cache County Court appointed Newton D. Hall to be Providence’s “Water Master” (a.k.a. “Watermaster”). No doubt the position of Watermaster was modeled after a similar office created in Salt Lake City ten years earlier. The Watermaster was charged with overseeing the construction and repairs of "gates, locks, or sluices", dividing water shares among the citizens, and acting as an arbitrator when conflicts arose. The Watermaster had the ability to "tax" residents for their water use, requiring either labor or money to create and maintain water channels. Hall was a 43-year-old farmer from New York with a wife and eight children. He migrated to Utah in 1847 and was one of the original settlers of North Ogden. Hall only served as Watermaster for a year; he and his family left Providence by 1870. The two appointees that followed Hall also only served for a year, but the position remained in existence until the turn of the century. After that, the title remained but instead of a town Watermaster, each water company would appoint their own.
In an attempt to manage the difficult water situation in the territory and hopefully maximize cooperation and minimize conflict, the 1865 Utah Territorial Legislature passed a law to allow for the creation of “irrigation districts.” To form an irrigation district, a “majority of the citizens” in a locale had to declare that “more water is necessary and that there are streams unclaimed” which would be useful for agricultural purposes. The County Court would then organize the district. Once this was done, all “landholders...[were] equally entitled to the use of the water in, or to be brought into such district according to their several needs.” Once a district was created, the people also had the ability to form a company and elect officers who were charged with analyzing the necessary maintenance for existing canals as well as supervising the creation of new canals. They also had the responsibility to recommend the amount of tax which the users of a canal or canals should be required to pay.